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Album Review

by Bailterspace

Arch Hill Recordings

Review Date
28th August 2012
Reviewed by
Michael Harvey

Bailterspace are one of New Zealand’s most influential indie rock bands. Sonically intense, yet still possessing a keen sense of melody, Bailterspace play loud, noise-inflected rock; huge sheets of distorted guitar intertwined with pulsing rhythms. The band formed in Christchurch in 1987 by former Gordons guitarist, Alister Parker – someone who is no stranger to excessive feedback levels, as classic Gordons cuts such as “Future Shock” illustrate – and The Clean drummer Hamish Kilgour. After some line-up changes, the new Bailterspace configuration came to include John Halvorsen (bass) and Brent McLachlan (drums) – both originally in the Gordons with Parker. Bailterspace adopted a more refined approach than the Gordons’ discordant noise tactics, with a strong focus upon texture and atmosphere. Parker’s massive, droning guitars provided much of this texture, with Halvorsen’s bass ebbing and flowing through the feedback, and McLachlan’s persistent drums punctuating the dissonant sonic canvas.

After a slew of critically-acclaimed albums throughout the '90s, Bailterspace disappeared off the radar after 1998's Solar.3. A retrospective compilation appeared in 2004, frontman Alister Parker played a number of solo shows -- largely drawing upon the Bailterspace discography -- and a reconfigured line-up took the stage at New York's Bowery Ballroom in 2008, minus long-time bass player John Halvorsen. And now, some four years after that appearance, here we have Strobosphere, the band's first new material in over 15 years. The New York-shot promo photos show just Parker and McLachlan, indicating that Halvorsen is now out of the equation. New material from bands who have left such an inspiring legacy is always a dicey proposition. The ultimate question is, how does Strobosphere stack up to such classics as Vortura and Robot World? 

And the answer is... pretty bloody well. From the outset, Strobosphere picks up seamlessly where they left off all those years ago. It sounds not so much like a band rediscovering who they once were, but more like a band whose sonic identity is so ingrained in their psyche that a lengthy hiatus could be a mere couple weeks between gigs. 'Things We Found' doesn't mess around with any kind of introductory fanfare; it kicks in from the get-go, a simple, two-chord riff skirting the line between dissonance and melody accompanied by McLachlan's understated drumming, then Parker's distinctive vocals enter. This is a sound that could be none other than Bailter Space's. 'Strobosphere' is an altogether more spacious journey, ending on a feedback-drenched near-psychedelic note. 'Polarize' offers a more strident approach, with a chunkier riff and more upfront vocals and 'Dset' is almost a total throwback to the Gordons' days, a faster number redolent of punk aggression. Whilst overdriven guitar and metronomic drumming dominate proceedings, 'No Sense' pares the distortion back to leave Parker intoning typically abstract lyrics. There's nothing as dreamy as 1997's 'Argonaut' here, but hearing the band sound so reinvigorated on tracks like 'Island' and 'Op1' makes up for the slight lack of divergence across the album. 

With a riff recalling 1988's 'The Today Song', 'World We Share' closes the album by invoking the same kind of laconic feeling that has been so characteristic of the band's output. The elements are all there as they were 25-odd years ago -- sure, the band may be older, but the music remains ageless. Considering the number of bands currently mining the shoegaze genre for inspiration, as well as My Bloody Valentine's wholly unexpected return to the live forum, the stage is set for Bailterspace to return and reap what they truly deserve as simply one of the great bands of the past thirty years. Welcome back. 


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